A powerfully convincing way to learn about experiential instruction: A review of Ron Berger’s An Ethic of Excellence: Building a Culture of Craftsmanship with Students

 

cover of Ron Berger's book

An Ethic of Excellence

At last! A book on education that resonates with me on every page.

This book is not new, but it is powerfully convincing. And it’s the best way to learn about the kind of high-quality, experiential instruction to which Ron Berger has devoted his life.

In his own words, education is something we “should sweat over and make sure it’s strong and accurate and beautiful and you should be proud of it.”

That sentiment seems to have gotten lost in the high-stakes testing era. I believe we should bring it back.

Berger reminds us that education is a calling, a long-term commitment motivated by the desire to bring out the best in our youth and ourselves.


Berger is also a carpenter, and he brings the spirit of craftsmanship to the classroom. He shares his educational tools, techniques and ideas with the reader, recognizing that every school is different. 


His narrative is richly detailed and meticulous. There is no one answer, and there is no easy answer.

The quality that Berger seeks manifests itself in a work product — something that students produce as an outcome of their own exploration, experience, investigation, interpretation, composition and writing, often using multimedia presentations.

This work is exacting, reflective, multidisciplinary, integrative and above all, experiential.

His narrative is filled with diverse examples, drawn from the K-12 world, but widely applicable to higher education as well. The College of Education and Human Ecology will be drawing upon it in its creation of college signature courses.

Berger emphasizes that culture matters. He says, “When children enter a family culture, a community culture or a school culture that demands and supports excellence, they work to fit into that culture.”

This kind of excellence can’t be scaled up, but the methods and understandings can be. Berger provides a map that we each can use to guide our own journey and efforts toward teaching excellence.

Please read this book. If you have read it already, I urge you to read it again. It’s that good.

 

Ron Berger’s An Ethic of Excellence: Building a Culture of Craftsmanship with Students, 2003, is published by Heinemann.

How did 9/11 affect you?

 

The 9/11 Memorial South Pool in New York City.

The 9/11 Memorial South Pool in New York City.

As 9/11 arrives again this year, I am reminded that our confused, chaotic, untrusting, contemporary world began that day in 2001.

No matter our age, the world changed at that point in time.

Is it too trite to suggest that we all lost our innocence that day?

The depth of the impact hit me forcefully when I visited the memorial in New York City.

That deep, dark hole made Dante’s nine circles of hell a reality for me.

As we try to sort out current events, it may serve us well to remember the before and after of that tragic day.

How did that day impact you? What do you remember? If you were very young on that fateful day, how did you learn about it? What did you learn?

I invite you to share your thoughts by posting a comment below.

I issue this invitation because in sharing our humanity, bonds are built between us. I believe such bonds allow us to stand stronger.

Use the questions below to jumpstart your thoughts. Or share your own comment about or reaction to 9/11 and its effect on you and yours.

After 9/11, I felt ____________________ because ___________________.

After 9/11, I took this action to help victims: _________________________.

 

 

Photo credit: By Dave Z – 9/11 Memorial, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=39762356z

An educator’s perspective of Thank You for Being Late by Thomas L. Friedman

 

This is not a book for the faint of heart.Book cover of Thank You for Being Late by Thomas L. Friedman

Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations is long and packed full of ideas that take a while to digest.

I read a chapter at a time, sometimes only half a chapter. Many summaries and reviews of it appear on the web, including one by Bill Gates.

My point in this review is to look at it from an educator’s perspective.

Briefly, Friedman makes the case that changing technologies, the changing geoclimate and changing markets in a globalized world will all converge to make more progress in the next 100 years than in the last 20,000 years.

Or not. He notes that we live in a world where one angry person can literally destroy all.

At the same time, it takes all people cooperating to make the world more friendly. The outcome depends on our ability to build community. That’s hard work. 

Our guns and our borders may be necessary to defend our nation-states, but they are insufficient to protect us from the inside out. Only our values, our reaching out and our unity can accomplish that.

One job qualification will be the most important for the future.

Chapter 8, “Turning IA into AI” had the greatest impact on me. Imagine a cartoon in which the top of a person’s head has been opened and a pitcher full of ideas poured in — that’s how I felt.

The chapter described “STEMpathy,” the combination of STEM content and the human skills of empathy and cooperation, as the single most important job qualification for the future.

Friedman’s assertion persuaded me that we all already use artificial intelligence in the form of our (bionic) attachments, including phones, pacemakers, C-PAP machines, smart watches and the like.

He asserted that we must close the divide between people with and without degrees.

The author also described numerous public-private education partnerships (pre-Purdue/Kaplan) that are changing the way Americans learn.

The ideas are exciting and provocative, but Friedman is not an educator.

Friedman missed the pitch in several respects. He thought that education has no role in motivation, neglected pedagogy and cognitive development altogether, didn’t discuss the use of technologies in the K-12 domain and was ignorant of any theory that might drive our planning or interventions.

He was also, in my opinion, correct in many respects. I do believe that apprenticeships and mentorship are important. I agree that MOOCs were more of a novelty introducing a platform, but not transformational.


I further believe that effective engagement is essential, and a major and yet unmet challenge is to harmonize concepts taken from the business world with concepts in education.


In addition, educators must step up to the plate along with city and other civic-minded leaders to teach ethics. As we leave algorithms or data analytics to make more choices for us, we must remember they will not make decisions based on ethical considerations.

Algorithms are by definition designed to divide, segment and target specific groups; they are not targeted to the larger, common or long-term good.

Simultaneously, new technologies are advancing at a pace so fast, they are implemented before we understand them fully. Artificial intelligence potentially threatens, therefore, our privacy, and potentially our jobs though that need not be the ultimate outcome.

In the end, the most important question is how to empower learners to learn.

Technology is a sideshow, not the main show. It can help us get to where we want to go, but it is not the destination.

Yogi Berra said, “If you don’t know where you want to go, any road will take you there.”  Let us not get lost.

Our aim is to flatten barriers and boxes such that we cultivate creativity, critical thinking, deep understanding and engagement, not leaving the heart behind, but rather enlarging it. The new technologies should be our treasured assistants in this enterprise.

 

Words of wisdom to Early College Metro High School graduates, spring 2017

Auditorium filled with students in white and black robes throwing their mortar boards into the air

Students graduate from Columbus’ Metro Early College High School.

On June 3, I delivered the following address to graduates of Columbus’ Metro Early College High School, which concentrates on STEM subjects. As a member of the Metro Governing Board, I am so proud of these students. The class of 2017 is Metro’s eighth graduating class, joining Metro’s 467 alumni. Every one of this year’s graduates has been accepted into college. Here is the message I shared with them.  

Congratulations graduates and greetings to parents, friends, colleagues and board members.  I am honored to be here.

One of my early mentors shared with me that knowledge is always for sale, but wisdom is given for free.

I have three wisdoms to share with you today, three word pairs to reflect on.  I hope their light might help you find your way through the darkness of information overload and indecision.

The first is a dichotomy: Thrive vs. survive.

To thrive is not the same as surviving.  I know.  I’m a survivor. Maybe some of you are now as well.  Surviving is the power to endure.  You see it celebrated a lot these days, with marches and ribbons, even parties sometimes.

Surviving is living close to the wire. Sometimes that is what you have to do. Being on this side of the wire is better than the alternative. But survival ought not be your purpose, your primary aim in life.

Your aim should be to thrive — to live vigorously, to advance, to grow, to be happy, to learn, to love and to accomplish. Survival is none of those things.  Learn to thrive.

The second word pair: Destruction vs. construction

Destruction is easy; construction is hard. You know this. You built robots in teams along with many other class and community projects. It took weeks, but ruination was always lurking near. Ruination could occur with one arm wave; in fact, that might have happened to you. You might have had to start over.  And over.

So you know, destruction is easier than construction. Destruction of buildings and bridges, yes, but also organizations, industry workplaces, schools, governments and even families.

To be the naysayer, the contrarian, the belligerent responder, the temptress and the wrecking ball–these are all destructive pathways, tempting perhaps because they are speedy and easy and require no preparation.

Construction always takes longer, building buildings and building relationships that cross divides and last over time, but there will be little human good in the world without the time spent, the honest effort, the thinking and the doing to make it happen.

Identify destruction.  Choose construction.

A third dichotomy: Certainty and Uncertainty

You are graduating from a STEM school, emphasizing science, technology, engineering and math, in a moment when our larger society is questioning the value of science and scientific research altogether. The public wants sure answers to their questions, and it is dismayed when science changes course.

Is science true? No, not really. Science is and always will be about uncertainty, about the pursuit of alternative explanations, based on evidence, that explain ever more fully what is and what is not. That is not to be confused with alternative facts. Science builds brick by brick on a strong foundation.  Alternative facts have no foundation.

Science is, to say it another way, about failure. It is through failure that we learn. I give you permission to fail; the world may tell us not to fail, but you must take risks, and with risks come the chances for both success and failure.

Can there then be any certainty? Yes, yes. I am certain that science is tentative; that is its nature. And, I tentatively hold close my scientific facts.  Science is always the march toward greater truth; it is not the truth, at least not truth with a capital “T”.

Science demands that we change our minds and our perspectives, our way of seeing and understanding. It demands that we do it over and over and over again.

Don’t fret.  Embrace the uncertainty. Don’t hide the errors, or be afraid to say you’re wrong.

If we have any responsibility as human beings, it is our responsibility to learn from our mistakes and misunderstandings.

Those are the wisdoms I brought with me today.

When faced with destruction, choose construction.

When making goals, choose thriving above surviving.

When certainty tries to dominate, preserve uncertainty.

Now gather your robes.  Go off!  Do well, be well and live well.

Thank you.

 

 

The New Urban Crisis, by Richard Florida

How our cities are increasing inequality, deepening segregation and failing the middle class — and what we can do about it.

 

THe New Urban Crisis book cover

Richard Florida spoke recently at Ohio State.

What he said made my hair stand on end. 

He reported that Columbus is the second most segregated city in the United States.

After that, I had to get his book. I was surprised to find he didn’t mention Columbus once! It’s odd, given that he used to live here.

Nevertheless, this book is worth picking up and reading. The points he makes apply to Columbus as much as they do to Los Angeles, New York or Miami.


He reminds us that not only do most people live in cities, but also cities are the drivers of economic growth. Our economy is as healthy as our city citizens are and vice versa.

 

Building roads and fixing bridges may be needed, but those short-term efforts won’t fix what’s wrong.

It’s true we need a sound infrastructure, but a future sound infrastructure probably won’t look like the one we have now, and it won’t mean much if poverty is endemic.

Poverty is about money. Simply put, Florida says everyone who works should make a living wage. He also highlights the imperative for:

  • More affordable rental housing
  • The need to contain urban sprawl
  • The necessity of denser housing and good schools for everyone
  • The importance of including city mayors in national policymaking

Columbus won a “Smart City” grant. It is leading to many discussions about technology and driverless cars. There is much less talk about the rationale for receiving the grant in the first place.

It was to increase access to health care for our most vulnerable residents, for our babies who are dying at the rate of a developing country, and to ensure that our workers can get to work. We ought to address segregation too.

We need to earn the label, “Smart City,” and we can learn a lot from Richard Florida.

 

The solution for the opioid crisis begins with us all


Last week, I attended the Columbus Metropolitan Club’s presentation, “Heroin’s Deadly Presence” and read several essays about the opioid crisis this weekend. All recounted horrifying statistics about Wheeling, West Virginia and Columbus, Ohio. All of them were wrenching, but none of them offered much in the way of ideas about how to combat this crisis.

Only one idea was offered. Call on the schools to educate against this plague.

This call is short sighted.

Please do not kick the can of this crisis into the schoolyard! The opioid crisis was not started by the schools and cannot be cured by the schools. Instead, it represents a breakdown in our entire social system. This crisis belongs to the entire community.

Is anyone else as disturbed as I am by the advertisements for Movantik? Do you think this means that prescribed opioids have become so normalized that their GI side effects can be discussed with impunity on prime time TV?

Heroin and opioid addiction represent a failure of our health care system, of doctors and big pharma, the criminal and justice systems, and the lack of treatment centers. Poverty, hopelessness and despair are signets too. They are the result of addiction, if not players in the cause.

Schools are a cog in this big ecosystem and they can play a part in addressing these needs, but it will take all the players, all the parts and all the cogs to work together to truly turn this sordid mess around.

Ohio State can help too. Dean William Martin, of the College Public Health, Director Roger Rennekamp, of OSU Extension, and others are leading the charge.  Let’s get behind them and make a positive difference in our community, for everyone’s sake!

A consistent trigger: Border patrol


We all have triggers. One of mine has been triggered far too often lately, and it’s time for me to speak out.

I moved a lot as a youngster. During my formative years, I lived in a rural, agricultural part of California. As an early adolescent, I worked in the fields alongside a lot of migrant workers. In fact, I was the only American-born citizen in my cohort. Almost all of my coworkers were Filipino — they didn’t talk much about how they made it to this country, but they did share that the journey was horrendous for them. Others came up from Mexico.

We lived near the coast. Left over from WWII was a primitive notification system among farms originally created to warn everyone of a (potential) Japanese invasion. It still worked in the 1960s and was used for warnings about impending border patrol raids.

I worked for John Dias and Sons in Pescadero, California. One day, John received a warning and the entire crew went into action. We all gathered in “the factory,” a huge Quonset hut where the flowers John grew were sorted, wired, laid out on trays, dried, bunched and packed for shipping. The packing boxes were cardboard and referred to as coffins. As the product was so light, even when the boxes were full, workers would just toss them into the center of the Quonset hut and stack them up nearly to the ceiling. It was a disorderly mess.

When the warning came, the undocumented workers on the crew were all hidden. Some climbed into the cardboard coffins and others curled into crates, and we covered them with fresh, wet flowers. Every U.S. citizen had to be busy “working” when the patrollers came — this meant the owners, their relatives and I hustled around the edges of the Quonset hut. I was laying flowers out in trays, sorting by color and trying hard not to uncover a man who was laying under my workbench, literally at my feet.

I wasn’t prepared for what happened next.

The border patrol team burst into the Quonset hut all dressed in black and wearing face shields. This was in the days before SWAT teams, and I had never seen anything like them. I thought they were the most frightening men I had ever seen. They carried long, sharp knives. Moving quickly, quietly and with brazen determination, they started poking and slicing whatever they felt like.

I was completely terrified that someone would be severely harmed right in front of my eyes. We were lucky. We were all so lucky. None of the patrollers struck actual human beings, and they left as fast as they had stormed in, with nothing in hand, hoping to surprise another farm and haul in a lot of “illegals.”

I still haven’t recovered. My heart races and my body tenses to this day, just at the thought of it. Fifty years after the fact, it still makes me cry.

Now, we are living again in a time when fear of immigrants is becoming more dominant.

Immigrants are often seen as threatening though most are hardworking, law abiding, loving of their families and trying desperately to “make it,” while working at menial jobs for low wages without compliant.

We need to respect these individuals. Whereas some Americans may like to argue about what rights undocumented immigrants do and don’t have, I urge you first to consider all of them as fellow human beings. One of the reasons they came to America is that we are a land living under the “rule of law.” This is a value that they value perhaps more than we do. I, for one, cannot fathom how we can deny basic human rights to anyone nor can I fathom how or why border guards — paid for with our taxes — can trespass, assault, threaten and potentially harm this country’s citizens with impunity.

Perhaps our border guards don’t do this today. If so, let’s make sure they don’t start. The fear my trigger carries should be a fear that no other individual should have.

We need to protect our citizens and one way to do that is to protect everyone within our borders. We need to make sure our laws are implemented fairly and without prejudice. We need to be sure that irrational emotions never outstrip the wisdoms of thought, care, deliberation and rational decision-making.

 

Review of the Month: What in the Dickens?


I read nonfiction for the most part, but every once in a while I yearn for a good yarn.

Last month I picked up the book, “The Last Dickens” by Matthew Pearl. It’s a “literary mystery,” and I learned a lot from it. Pearl specializes in historic biography, meaning the writing is luscious, and the plot is deeply researched. His characters are well-developed in the style of Charles Dickens!

The book is about the last five years or so of Charles Dickens’ life, but the reader also learns what daily life was like in the U.S. shortly after the Civil War. Pearl also explores the back-story of Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood and how different the life trajectories were for the poor versus the better-educated middle and upper classes in the U.S and London.

Oddly enough, there is a tantalizing story line about the British opium trade in India and China as well. Put it all together and it’s creepy. The parallels with what is happening today in rural Ohio and our cities with opioid addiction, a strained economy and a changing job market are uncanny. Big egos, plotters and suspicion abound.


The book does not provide any answers about today’s dilemmas, but it will leave you with a richer understanding of the expression, “What goes around comes around.” 


The issues of hope and hopelessness; being born in poverty; having a life ravaged by drug addiction; and the business interests that control drug distribution have not changed much in the last 150 years. America survived the 1870s, and America will survive its challenges today relying always on the ingenuity of its people.

But we simply have to do better!

Review of the Month: Hillbilly Elegy


I read “Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis,” by J. D. Vance because it’s been talked about on the radio and in many of the magazines I read. It’s also very local, describing people who live within a 100-mile radius of me. I felt I owed it to the community to read it and it might explain the politics of Ohio in the last Presidential election.

It’s hard for me to put a finger on how I feel about the book.

I struggled to get through the first 50 pages and then put it down. I came back to it and started in again on Chapter 11 when Vance began as a student at Ohio State. He’s lucky, as he says over and over again, to climb out of his home culture. Something rankles, however.

Maybe it’s the presumption as I read through the words that a hard home life belongs uniquely to the poor, white culture of Appalachia. Maybe it’s the way he defines Appalachia. I’ve lived and worked in rural poverty in Maine and that, to me, is as Appalachian as it gets even without a Kentucky twang.

Maybe it’s page 226. It’s about the only time in his entire book he refers to any research literature and there he talks about ACES or “adverse childhood experiences.” He lists the possibilities:

  • Being sworn at, insulted or humiliated by parents
  • Being pushed, grabbed or having something thrown at you
  • Feeling that your family didn’t support each other
  • Having parents who were separated or divorced
  • Living with an alcoholic or a drug user
  • Living with someone who was depressed or attempted suicide
  • Watching a loved one be physically abused

Two things strike me here. My score on this scale is worse than his score, and my family is not from Kentucky. There are worse things that happen in childhood than appear on this list. Vance tries to say at the end of the book, that what goes wrong here can be fixed, mostly by caring adults.

I read in the Columbus Dispatch last week that Vance is moving to Columbus. For all I know, he may end up living in my neighborhood. I’m not sure what he intends to do with his Yale law degree here, but I hope if he becomes active in the community, he will visit with some of our faculty in EHE.

Our faculty, many of whom are experts in the fields Vance has written about, would be happy to share their insight on the problems faced by those living in poverty.

Building community together



On. Jan. 31, I attended the 45th Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration featuring Angela Davis. I recalled the firebrand I saw in the 1960s. My church congregation sent funds to support her legal defense. Today, she is an internationally recognized activist, academic scholar and author who advocates for the oppressed.

I was moved by her message about Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” address and her description of the more “mature King.” After the March on Washington, he spoke out against the Vietnam War and racism, militarism and materialism.

During her keynote, Davis acknowledged the injustices that all corners of our country and globe face. To say that it was food for thought is to put it mildly. Davis called on all of us to act because “now, we have a chance to stand on the right side of history.” It echoes King’s call:

“We have come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy.”

I hope you will join me and members of the Ohio State community in attending one of the many United Black World Month events that will allow us to build community and explore the diasporic experience.

Click here to see the full listing of United Black World Month events, including “Fighting Islamophobia on Campus and Beyond: A Conversation.” Also, be sure to read on for exciting news about our very own Rudine Sims Bishop and her newest honor.

Celebrating an EHE champion


Rudine Sims Bishop

This month, Professor Emerita Rudine Sims Bishop, Teaching and Learning, was named the recipient of the 2017 Coretta Scott King-Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement by the American Library Association.

Bishop has significantly influenced the growth and appreciation of multicultural children’s literature on an international level. Her globally cited publications have inspired movements for increased diversity in books for young people. Moreover, her work provides the basis for the best multicultural practice and inquiry for students, teachers, writers and publishing houses.

At Ohio State, Bishop taught children’s literature courses from 1986 until her retirement in 2002. She directed doctoral research, chaired the Language, Literacy and Culture program and co-chaired the university’s annual Children’s Literature Conference. She won numerous awards, including the university’s Distinguished Service Award.

This June, Bishop will receive the Coretta Scott King Award at the library association’s annual convention in Chicago. I couldn’t be more proud to call her my colleague.

I hope this month we, as a college and community, continue to “fuel the fire and sustain the vision” of the many influential African American leaders throughout our history.

Sincerely,